Monday, April 9, 2018

Lula in jail after symbolically charged showdown (April 9, 2018)

Former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva turned himself in to the police on Saturday evening, after a two-day standoff that raised tensions in an already politically polarized country. Lula, as he is called, was ordered to report to police in Curitiba on Friday afternoon to begin serving a 12-year sentence for corruption. But the front-runner for October's presidential elections holed up in a metallurgical workers union headquarters in São Bernardo do Campo, in the outskirts of São Paulo, surrounded by thousands of supporters. The location is symbolic, the same union from which he began his political career that transformed Brazilian politics.

Lula demonstrated political mastery of the situation, insisting on remaining in the headquarters until a mass on Saturday in honor of his wife who died last year. Supporters initially blocked the police car attempting to carry him away, reports the Associated Press. Bodyguards surrounded the former president and pushed through supporters in order to get him out at nightfall.

Lula maintained his innocence however, accusing prosecutors involved in the massive Lava Jato investigation of lying. "I don't forgive them for giving society the idea that I am a thief," he said. "The more days they leave me (in jail), the more Lulas will be born in this country."

The arrest comes at a critical time in Brazilian politics, and leaves the left without an obvious candidate in the upcoming presidential elections, reports the New York Times. Indeed, the detention favors his closest rival in the polls, right-wing firebrand and dictatorship apologist Jair Bolsonaro. Though Lula did not anoint a successor, he did invite leftist candidates from other parties, Manuela d’Ávila and Guilherme Boulos to accompany him while he spoke on Saturday.

Lula has vowed to continue his political campaign from prison, though he will likely be disqualified due to a Brazilian law disqualifying people convicted of corruption from running for office, reports the Washington Post.

He is housed in a special 15-square-meter cell in Curitiba’s federal police headquarters, where most high-profile politicians and businessmen convicted in the “Car Wash” corruption probe have served their sentences, reports Reuters. Lula will not be allowed to interact with others being held in the building, but will have unfettered access to lawyers and family.

Lula's supporters have criticized the case against the former president as politically biased and based on shaky evidence. See for example Mark Weisbrot's New York Times op-ed from January on the case.

Though some celebrate Lula's detention as a sign of institutional strength, many experts question the effect it will have on faith in democracy, as other politicians accused of far greater graft remain free.  Lula’s case was judged much more quickly than all other cases in the huge Car Wash corruption scandal, and other politicians from rival parties accused of more serious crimes remain free, notes the Guardian.

In a New York Times Español op-ed Carol Pires notes with concern signs of political violence and military threats of intervention. Last week the head of the country's armed forces appeared to pressure the Supreme Court to send Lula to jail. "For now, the resurgence of the military shows that when the government loses political control, it lights up the barrack's desire for power. In an extreme scenario, a popular disturbance could be a dangerous excuse for those who seek to undermine the democratic system using the rise of radicalism as a pretext. It is not a trivial point in a Brazil more adrift than ever."

An upcoming Supreme Court decision on a constitutional challenge to the 2016 decision that jails people with a criminal conviction after the first appeal is upheld could potentially get Lula out of jail soon -- but would also benefit opposition politicians due to be judged for corruption, reports the Huffington Post.

News Briefs
  • The ACLU criticized the U.S. administration's new "zero tolerance policy" to prosecute immigrants entering the country, calling it "the height of irrationality." The policy will likely "cause rampant violations of due process and individual rights to a fair trial," warned Cecillia Wang, American Civil Liberties Union deputy legal director. "We will almost certainly see asylum seekers prosecuted and parents separated from children to be funneled into the criminal justice system."
  • U.S. President Donald Trump's rhetorical attacks against Mexican law enforcement efforts with regards to immigrants potentially headed to the U.S. could endanger close cooperation between the two countries. A little known program that could be put at risk helps U.S. authorities collect biometric data of tens of thousands of Central Americans and other migrants arrested in Mexico, reports the Washington Post.
  • Responding to Trump's rhetoric about migrants, many members of the caravan the U.S. president singled out as a threat, pointed out that they would not have left their country if not for life-threatening violence there, reports the Guardian.
  • The latest Mexican opinion poll has leftist Andres Manuel López Obrador with nearly an 11 percentage point lead over his closest rival ahead of the July presidential election, reports Reuters.
  • Trolling and  "fake news," is a global phenomenon. But "Guatemala may be unique in the degree to which private interests have been implicated in the trolling, as well as the pervasiveness of the phenomenon," reports The Intercept. Information warfare in Guatemala has taken on the anti-corruption efforts against the entrenched political elite, embodied in the CICIG head Iván Velásquez and attorney general Thelma Aldana. The piece delves into the working of net centers, groups of "people paid to produce and disseminate fake news stories, and to fabricate Facebook and Twitter profiles in order to attack foes and spread misinformation. Tactics can include viral WhatsApp campaigns, doxxing, and hacking; targets are typically activists or journalists."
  • Nicaraguan rights group warned that vague government plans to protect citizens from "violence" on social media is likely part of a policy designed at limiting freedom of expression. (See March 15's briefs.)
  • Last week a jury in a U.S. federal court in Fort Lauderdale, Florida decided that Bolivia’s former President Gonzalo “Goni” Sánchez de Lozada and his Minister of Defense Carlos Sánchez Berzaín are legally responsible for extrajudicial killings. The decision sets legal precedent. The nine plaintiffs in the civil case, whose families died amid protests over a proposed natural gas pipeline in 2003, were awarded $10 million by the court, reports NACLA. The landmark case was brought under the Torture Victim Protection Act, a law that expanded U.S. jurisdiction to cases of torture or crimes against humanity committed outside of its territory, stating that having human rights violators at large represents a threat to the U.S.’ interest and national security, explains Julia Sclafani in Americas Quarterly.
  • #TodosConVenezuela. Latin music star Ricardo Montaner and Human Rights Watch launched a campaign urging Latin Americans and their governments to pressure Venezuela's government to recognize and tackle the country's devastating human rights and humanitarian crisis. Launched ahead of the upcoming Summit of the Americas, the campaign asks people to tweet at several Latin American presidents, asking them to confront Maduro and join other governments in speaking out about his abuses.
  • Venezuelan opposition candidate Henri Falcón's greatest challenge might be convincing disenchanted citizens that voting could actually make a difference, reports the Washington Post.
  • The horrifying fire that killed 68 people in a Venezuela prison "was not a surprise for those familiar with the state of the country’s prison system," write Rebecca Hanson and Leonard Gómez Núñez in the Conversation.
  • A Trinidad and Tobago court could rollback longstanding homophobic laws in the country, setting a precedent for the Caribbean, reports the Guardian.
  • Former Peruvian strongman Alberto Fujimori denied a political comeback at the age of 79, and said he had a tumor in his lungs, reports Reuters.
  • Catastrophe bonds are a financial tool aimed at helping developing countries insure themselves against damage from natural disasters. But an examination of Mexico’s experience by Columbia University Journalism Investigations and the Los Angeles Times shows the bond program has often failed to deliver.

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